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The Last Letter(11)
Rebecca Yarros

“Sorry. Hi, Dr. Hughes. My manners have run away screaming lately.” I rubbed my hands over my face.

“It’s okay,” she said, taking the spinning stool.

“What do the scans say?”

A soft smile played over her face. My breath caught, and my heart slammed to a stop, awaiting the words I’d been longing to hear and yet was terrified of since this all began five months ago.

“It’s time. Chemo has shrunk the tumor enough to operate.”

My little girl’s life was about to be out of my hands.

Chapter Seven


Letter #7


I’m sitting in the hallway of the Children’s Hospital of Colorado, with a notebook propped up on my knees. I would tell you what day it is, but I honestly can’t remember. It’s been a blur since they said cancer.

Maisie has cancer.

Maybe if I write it a few more times, it will feel real instead of this hazy nightmare that I can’t seem to wake up from.

Maisie has cancer.

Yeah, still doesn’t feel real.

Maisie. Has. Cancer.

For the first time since Jeff walked out, I feel like I’m not enough. Twins at nineteen? It wasn’t easy, and yet it was as natural as breathing. He left. They were born. I became a mother, and it changed me in the very foundation of my soul. Colt and Maisie became my reason for everything, and even when I was overwhelmed, I knew that I could be enough for them if I gave them everything I had. So I did, and I was. I ignored the whispers, the suggestions that I give them up and go to college, everything, because I knew that there was no better place for my kids than with me.

I might have a few issues, but I always knew that I was enough.

But this? I don’t know how to be enough for this.

It’s like the doctors are speaking a foreign language, throwing around letters and numbers like I’m supposed to understand. Labs and scans and treatment possibilities and the decisions. God, the decisions I have to make.

I’ve never felt more alone in my life.

Maisie has cancer.

And I don’t know if I’m enough to get her through it, and she has to get through it. I can’t imagine a world where my daughter isn’t here. How can I be everything she’s going to need and give Colt any sense of normalcy?

And Colt…when the genetics came back, they told me Colt and I had to be tested for the gene mutation. He’s okay, thank God. We both are, and neither of us carry it. But those moments waiting to hear if losing them both was a possibility? I could barely breathe at the thought.

But I have to be enough, right? I don’t have a choice. It’s like the moment I saw those two heartbeats on the monitor. There was no option to fail. And there’s no way I’m going to fail now, either.

Maisie has cancer, and I’m all she has.

So I guess it’s down the rabbit hole I go.

~ Ella

I stepped onto the dock that reached into the small lake just behind my cabin, testing my weight. Yeah, this thing was going to need to be rebuilt. No wonder they’d kept the gate locked.

The sun stretched just overhead, cutting through the brisk morning. I’d been in Colorado for almost two weeks, and I’d learned the key to the weather here was layers, because it might be snowing in the morning, but it was almost seventy by dinner. Mother Nature had some serious mood swings around here.

A light fog rolled off the lake, lingering around the shores of the small island that rested about a hundred yards away in the center of the lake. I knew eventually I’d have to use the little rowboat that was tied up at the end of the dock and row myself over.

Mac was buried there.

It had nearly killed me when I wasn’t allowed leave to come back and bury him, and yet there was an overwhelming relief that I wouldn’t have to face Ella, to see her expression when she realized what I’d done—why I was alive and her brother wasn’t.

Havoc bounded over and shook the water from her coat and dropped the Kong at my feet, ready to take off into the water for the twentieth time or so. She was restless lying around all day these last couple of weeks, and I was, too.

I dropped down to my haunches, rubbing her behind her ears in her favorite spot. “Okay, girl. What do you say we get you dried off and go find a job? Because I’m going to go stir crazy if we stay here much longer like a pair of dead weights. And honestly, I’m kind of expecting you to start talking back at any moment, so some human contact might be needed.”

“It’s okay that you talk to your dog,” a small voice came from behind me. “It doesn’t make you crazy or anything.” His tone suggested otherwise.

I looked over my shoulder and saw a boy standing on the other side of the gate, dressed in jeans and a Broncos tee. His hair was shorn to the scalp, or rather, had been, and was growing back in a slight sheen of blond fuzz. His full eyebrows were drawn together over crystal-blue eyes, as he gave me a thorough once-over.

Ella’s eyes.

This was Colt. I knew it in the very marrow of my bones.

I did my best to soften my tone, well aware that I didn’t know the first thing about talking to kids. I assumed not scaring him was a good place to start. “I always talk to Havoc.”

She wagged her tail as if in answer.

“She’s a dog.” His words were at odds with the yearning in his voice and the way his eyes locked onto Havoc like she was the best thing he’d ever seen.

I stood to face him, and he straightened his spine and stared me down. Kid didn’t scare easily, which meant I had half a chance here.

“It’s not when you talk to them that you have to worry about insanity,” I told him. “It’s when they start answering you back.”

His lips puckered for a second, and he stepped forward, peeking over the half gate to look at Havoc. “So are you crazy?”

“Are you?”

“No. But you have one of our cabins for six months. No one does that. Except crazy people.” His expression flickered back and forth between judging me and coveting Havoc.

He’d begged Ella for a dog, and she’d nearly relented—then Maisie’s diagnosis came down. But I wasn’t supposed to know that. Wasn’t supposed to know that he wanted to play football, but Ella was too worried about concussions and pushed him toward soccer. I shouldn’t have known that he was supposed to take snowboarding lessons this year, or that he’d shaved off all that hair on his birthday because his sister had lost hers.

I wasn’t supposed to know him, but I did.

And it was hell to not be able to tell him that.

“Actually, I rented it for seven months. And you look a little short to be judging people.” I crossed my arms.

He mirrored my pose without hesitation. “That makes you even crazier. And I don’t let crazy people around my mama or my sister.”

“Aah, you’re the man of the house.”

“I’m not a man. I’m six, but I’ll be seven soon.”

“I see.” I bit back a smile, well aware that he wouldn’t be seven for another eight months. But time was all relative at that age. “Well, I’m not crazy. At least she doesn’t think I’m crazy.” I nodded toward Havoc.

“How do you know? Because you said if she talks to you, that means you’re nuts.” He stepped forward, resting his hands at the top of the gate, which came to about his collarbone. I needed to sand it down so he didn’t get splinters.

Man, did he have some lovestruck eyes for Havoc.

“Do you want to see her?”

He startled, his gaze flying to mine at the same time he stepped back. “I’m not supposed to talk to strangers, especially guests.”

“Which I totally respect. However, that didn’t stop you from coming out here.” I glanced behind him, seeing the blue, kid-sized quad that was parked haphazardly behind my cabin. At least there was a helmet resting on the seat.

I had a feeling that wouldn’t save him from Ella.

“No one’s ever stayed this long, and never with a dog. Not unless they work here, or they’re family. I just…” He gave a melodramatic sigh, and his head hung.

“You wanted to see Havoc.”

He nodded without looking up.

“Do you know what she is?” I walked forward slowly, like he was a wild animal that I’d spook if I moved too fast. Once I reached the gate, I unlatched the metal closure, letting it swing open.

“Ada says she’s a job dog. But not like a special needs dog. There’s a girl in my class who has one of those. He’s cool, but we can’t touch him.” His eyes slowly rose, his conflict so open and expressed in those eyes that my heart flopped over in my chest.

“If you back up a little, I’ll bring her to see you.”

He swallowed and glanced from Havoc to me, and then nodded his head like he’d made his choice. Then he walked backward, giving us enough room to get off the dock and onto solid ground.

“She’s a working dog. She’s a soldier.”

He quirked an eyebrow at me and then skeptically looked at Havoc. “I thought those had pointy ears.”

My smile slipped free. “Some do. But she’s a Lab. She’s trained to sniff out people and…other things. Plus, she plays a mean game of fetch.”

He stepped forward, sheer longing in his eyes, but he looked at me before getting too close. “Can I pet her?”

“I appreciate you asking. And yes, you may.” I gave Havoc a little nod, and she padded forward, tongue lolling out.

He dropped to his knees like she was something sacred and began to pet her neck. “Hiya, girl. Do you like the lake? It’s my favorite. What kind of name is Havoc?”

And boom. I was done for. The kid could have asked me to deliver him the moon and I would have found a way. He was so like Ella in expression, and like Ryan in the way he held himself. That confidence was going to serve him well as a man.

“Now look who’s crazy, talking to dogs.” I clucked my tongue.

He glared at me over Havoc’s back. “She’s not talking back.”

“Sure she is.” I dropped down next to him. “See how her tail wags? That’s a sure sign she likes what you’re doing. And the way her head is leaning into where you’re scratching? She’s telling you that’s where she wants you to scratch. Dogs talk all the time, you just have to speak their language.”

He smiled, and my heart did the flop thing again. It was like pure sunshine, a shot of unadulterated joy that I hadn’t had since…I couldn’t even remember when.

“You speak her language?”

“Sure do. I’m what they call her handler, but really, she’s mine.”

“You handle her?” He didn’t bother looking up at me, clearly having way too much fun checking out Havoc.

“Well, I used to. We’re both retiring, though.”

“So you’re a soldier?”

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